In response to Congressman Pompeo’s letter to SXSW
On Monday this week Christopher Soghoian will hold a virtual conversation with Edward Snowden during SXSW 2014. Not everybody is pleased. Congressman Michael Richard Pompeo (Kansas) has written to the organizers requesting that the invitation to Snowden be withdrawn.
People of the world, I urge you to read Pompeo’s letter in full (click the image on the right), to witness authoritarian doublespeak claptrap at its best.
People of Kansas — just get rid of him.
Pompeo writes, “In case you did not have access to the full facts in making your initial decision to extend your invitation, I want to call a few undisputed facts about the actions taken by Mr Snowden to your attention…”
OK, let’s have a look at Pompeo’s ‘undisputed facts’.
Only a tiny sliver of the materials stolen by Mr Snowden had anything to do with United States telecommunications or the privacy rights of Americans.
That ‘tiny sliver’ shows that the NSA interprets the law to allow it to spy on all Americans at all times. A recent example of the extent of NSA legal contortions will suffice to demonstrate. The spy agency discussed the feasibility of classifying Wikileaks as a “malicious foreign actor” for surveillance purposes. “If the foreign IP is consistently associated with malicious cyber activity against the U.S., so, tied to a foreign individual or organization known to direct malicious activity our way, then there is no need to defeat any to, from, or about U.S. Persons. This is based on the description that one end of the communication would always be this suspect foreign IP, and so therefore any U.S. Person communicant would be incidental to the foreign intelligence task.”
This argument could be applied to any ‘dubious’ website that ever questions US foreign and domestic policy. The Pirate Bay was discussed. Others could easily be included. RT? Al Jazeera? If the argument were applied, then any American visitor to any such circumscribed website would become a legitimate target of surveillance; and the NSA document makes it clear that is the primary purpose – a method of circumventing US law. Americans should remember, this surveillance would not simply be metadata, but actual content.
So, Pompeo’s ‘tiny sliver’ clearly demonstrates that all Americans are to be considered targets at all times. But just in semantic terms, how can it be an ‘undisputed fact’ when the vast majority of the documents have not yet been disclosed?
I would here appeal to the American people. Just consider the utter contempt that the NSA shows towards all foreigners. I am a foreigner, a journalist and a blogger – and I am a legitimate target for the NSA. This cannot be right. You have a strong sense of ‘freedom’. Much of that stems from the Declaration of Independence, which most famously states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
It says ‘all men’, not just ‘all Americans’. Should that not include me? Am I to be excluded from your view of freedom? (Lest you believe me a hypocrite, let me just say that I believe that the UK and GCHQ is far worse – you at least are discussing this; open discussion here has effectively been squashed by the UK government.)
Mr. Snowden cares more about personal fame than personal privacy
I would question that. He handed the documents to a journalist and has played no part in their publication. He does not seek out publicity nor interviews; but grants them when requested and if possible.
Mr. Snowden gives real whistleblowers a bad name
Excuse me? If he had attempted the official routes he would rapidly have been silenced. I don’t know about the US, but I strongly believe it to be similar to the UK, where potential whistleblowers tend to get suicided (Dr David Kelly and Gareth Williams are two relatively recent examples). Official whistleblowing routes are simply not an option at this level. If he were in the UK, his best bet for survival would be to feign madness – consider David Icke (who espouses the Lizard conspiracy) and David Shayler (who told the world he was the Messiah).
When I served in the Army along the Iron Curtain we had a word for a person who absconds with information and provides it to another nation: traitor. We also had a name for a person who chooses to reveal secrets he had personally promised to protect: common criminal. Mr. Snowden is both a traitor and a common criminal.
This is the biggest lie of all put forward by NSA apologists from Obama downwards. Snowden is charged under the Espionage Act, which makes him a traitor. But the Espionage Act is a law subservient, as all laws are, to the US Constitution. There are some who say that NSA actions are constitutional; but there is a growing legal, ethical and moral view that it at least contravenes the Fourth Amendment.
I suspect that all Americans consider themselves bound by the US Oath of Allegiance. I know that all who work in or for government – and that includes Obama, Pompeo and Edward Snowden, are so bound. That oath includes, “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
The Constitution is primary, and if Snowden believed (as many academics and legal minds also believe) that the NSA was acting in defiance of the Constitution, then he was duty bound to try to defend the Constitution. By that same token, those who support the NSA in breach of the Constitution are themselves in breach of their Oath of Allegiance – and that makes them, not Snowden, the traitors.
It is perfectly reasonable to question Snowden’s actions, and to have any view you like on them. But to twist reality to blacken his name and dampen open discussion is, frankly, pretty despicable.